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10 Delicious Food Factory Tours

By The Budget Travel Editors
July 11, 2019
Statue of cows coming out of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime
From ice cream to jelly beans to pretzels, some of America's most iconic brands welcome visitors to their factories for an up-close look at how your favorite foods are made.

You probably spotted Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Snyder's Pretzels, and Tabasco Sauce on your last stroll through a supermarket. They're universally available products, but did you know that in most cases, each is made in one single production facility? From Connecticut to California, iconic food companies offer tours of their factories to give you an up-close look at how they're made.

1. Ben & Jerry's: Waterbury, Vermont

For ice-cream fiends and casual consumers alike, a visit to the Ben & Jerry’s production facility in Vermont is a veritable pilgrimage. The factory typically cranks out its dairy delights on a daily basis, but guided tours run regardless of whether or not ice cream is being made—and yes, you’ll get to sample the wares either way. Afterwards, stop by the gift shop for some swag, order a full-size cone at the scoop shop, and pay your respects to pints of yesteryear at the Flavor Graveyard. If that’s not enough, go for the VIP Flavor Fanatic Experience, a hands-on affair that includes a tour, time in the lab where you’ll help create a flavor, and a tie-dyed lab coat of your very own.

30-minute guided factory tours run seven days a week, with varied hours depending on the season and tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. Adults ages 13-59, $4; seniors 60 and up, $3; kids under 12, free. Flavor Fanatic Experience, $175 per person. benjerry.com

2: Snyder Pretzels: Hanover, Pennsylvania

German and Swiss German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, and their culinary traditions still remain. There’s the Yuengling brewery, for one, the oldest brewery in the country. And then there are pretzels. Pennsylvania produces about 80% of pretzels sold in America and perhaps no company is better known than Snyder’s of Hanover, which opened in 1909 and still uses some of the original recipes. In addition to a crash course in the early commerce of Pennsylvania, a visit to the factory provides a peek at how the pretzels are made, with at look at the raw materials, the historic ovens where they bake massive amounts of the twists each day, and the elaborate packing system. Head off with a free bag of the snack and you’ll never look at a vending machine the same way again.

Free 30 minutes tours offered at 10:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:00p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; reservations required. snydersofhanover.com.

3. Jelly Belly: Fairfield, California

From birthday cake to dirty dishwater, toasted marshmallow to stinkbug, Jelly Belly is known for its out-there flavors, and if you’ve ever wondered how those mind-boggling combinations came to be, a visit to Fairfield is in order. Self-guided tours overlooking the factory are available every day, but to see it in full swing, visit on a weekday, when the quarter-mile floor is in operation. High-def videos, interactive games and exhibits, and free samples round out the experience; there’s even a jelly-bean art gallery on the premises, and a café serving bean-shaped pizzas and burgers. For a more in-depth look at the candy-making experience, enroll in Jelly Belly University, which will get you down on the factory floor for a guided tour.

The factory runs Monday through Friday, but free self-guided tours are available every day from 9:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. JBU tour, $59 per person; reservations required. jellybelly.com

4. PEZ: Orange, Connecticut

This iconic sweet started in 1927 as a small peppermint-candy operation in Austria (“PEZ” is actually an abbreviation of “pffefferminz,” the German word for peppermint), and it's become a global phenomenon that continues to intrigue. Fun fact: In 1993, the first pop-culture auction at Christie’s featured old dispensers. Trivia like that abounds at the PEZ factory’s visitor center in Orange, Connecticut. There are interactive exhibits and, of course, the largest collection of Pez dispensers on Earth, including many vintage items. The museum-like display overlooks the packaging production area, and “in-depth candy demonstrations” wrap up with samples of freshly made sweets.

Visitors Center open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Adults $4; $3 kids 3-6; free under 3. Demos are offered daily at 1:15 PM, 2:15PM, 2:45PM, and 3:15PM and cost $3. us.pez.com

5. Tabasco Sauce: Avery Island, Louisiana

On bucolic Avery Island, about 140 miles west of New Orleans, there are vast expanses of sustainable hot-pepper fields, an oak-tree jungle, and the fifth-generation family-run factory that annually turns out enough "Cajun ketchup" to reap $200 million in worldwide sales. A visit here offers more than a look at the production facility. The 10-stop self-guided tour gets you access to the museum, which tells the story of the iconic condiment, beginning in 1868 when Edmund McIlhenny created a pepper sauce to jazz up the lackluster fare of the Reconstruction South, as well as the greenhouse, the mash house (where you’re offered a face mask because of the stinging pepper heat in the air), the blending and production facility, the barrel warehouse, a conservatory, and more. Wrap up the day with dinner at Tabasco Restaurant 1868 and a shopping spree at the country store.

Self-guided tours offered daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tickets $5.50. tabasco.com/visit-avery-island/

6. Celestial Seasonings: Boulder, Colorado

The Celestial Seasonings production plant in Boulder is situated on Sleepytime Drive, but a visit here is nothing less than invigorating. Free, daily 45-minute tours give you a close-up look at the process of tea making—cleaning, cutting, sifting, blending, and packaging the herbs, spices, and tea leaves that are shipped all over the world to make 1.6 billion (yes, billion) cups of tea each year. You’ll also visit the sampling bar, where the list includes 100 kinds of tea. Should you need fortification before you get on your way, check out the Celestial Café, which offers an extensive salad bar and lots of grilled items. It’s adorned with original paintings of the images you'll recognize from the packaging, some of which you’ll also find on the memorabilia in the adorable shop.

Free tours run every hour on the hour from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. celestialseasonings.com/visit-us

7. Taza Chocolate: Somerville, Massachusetts

The hand-carved granite millstone takes center stage at the tour of the Taza Chocolate factory, a small but mighty facility just outside Boston. You'll learn that the primitive-looking contraption grounds the cacao beans to make the brand's signature chocolate discs, a uniquely gritty, tasty treat that pays tribute to the way chocolate was originally made. Expert guides will explain the fair-trade philosophies that dictate how ingredients are sourced, and needless to say, the tour includes a tasting. The chocolate-grinding room is on view from the shop. As to be expected from a chocolate factory, a visit here is particularly kid-friendly, with activities like Cacoa Scouts Bingo and Chocolate Story Time offered on the weekends. All that's missing is Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and Willie Wonka.

Intro to Stone Ground Chocolate tour runs Tuesday through Sunday at 2:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. $8 per person; reservations required. Cacao Scouts Bingo is $6; Story Time is free. tazachocolate.com

8. Holualoa Kona Coffee Company: Holualoa, Hawaii

What's not to love about fresh roasted coffee and beautiful island environs? At the heart of the Big Island’s Kona coffee belt is the Holualoa Kona Coffee Company, perched on a hilltop overlooking the coast and producing organically farmed java, milled and roasted on site. Tours are self-guided, so caffeine connoisseurs can wander through the orchards at their own pace (no herbicides or pesticides are used on the grounds, and only organic fertilizers, so you can linger without any chemical concerns). Be sure to check out the mill, then visit the packing room and gift shop to sip a free cup of joe and pick up a bag or two of beans to take home as a souvenir.

Free self-guided tours run Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. konalea.com

9. Tillamook Creamery: Tillamook, Oregon

Tillamook, Oregon's largest tourist attraction, makes cheese, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, and butter for a daily audience of 10,000-some visitors annually. Now, after a major architectural upgrade, the main production facility boasts sleek wood-and-steel digs sprawling across 42,800 square feet, a dining area with outdoor seating, a new menu created by Portland chef Sarah Schafer, an augmented ice cream counter serving up Tillamook flavors, a new coffee and yogurt bar, a shop, and most importantly, an upgraded perspective on the production and packaging operations. Take a look at how the cheese gets made, spend a little time with the farm exhibit and learn about the cows (and technology) behind the dairy-making magic, and taste as many samples as you can handle. Try the cheese curds before you leave—this is the only place you’ll find ‘em.

The creamery is open daily for free self-guided from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., early November to mid-June, and 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. the rest of the year. tillamook.com

10. The Great American Popcorn Company, Galena, Illinois

The family-owned Great American Popcorn company produces over 150 flavors of popcorn, from sweet options like caramel pecan and cinnamon toast, to savory flavors like jalapeno pepper and zesty ranch, all made with non-GMO corn. As you’d imagine, the facility, a simple storefront located downtown Galena, a quaint small town about 160 miles west of Chicago, is a far cry from the movie theater concession counter. Sensory overload awaits as you at the compact shop, where you can watch the makers at work at the cooking and coating machines then fill wood barrel after wood barrel of the stuff. And yes, they'll give you fresh, warm samples of whatever flavor they're making. A visit here also provides a history lesson in the snack food and a scientific tutorial in how it pops. Don’t leave before you gather some treats to bring home. About 30 flavors are sold at the gift shop on any given day.

The popcorn is made in the store, which is open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. greatpopcorn.com

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Elsewhere on the island, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse, named after the Potawatomi tribe who first settled the island, is maintained by volunteer docents who give tours with excellent lake views. But the real treat on Rock Island is the splendid isolation. 3. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana Indiana has the smallest slice of Lake Michigan coastline, but you wouldn’t know it when visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, where the shore appears to stretch endlessly across 15,000 acres between Michigan City and Gary. Seasonal camping and fishing make the park a popular summer getaway, but hikers are rewarded any time of year as they traverse the sandy dunes all the way to the beach or hike the waterfront trail near Portage Beach. As the southernmost point on Lake Michigan, temperatures in the water are usually balmy here earlier in the season, making it a solid choice for a June escape. Away from the beach, the park encompasses historic homes built for the 1933 World’s Fair. The Bailly Homestead, a fur-trading post and meeting place for Native and Anglo-Americans in the early 1800s, is a landmark site that you can explore with a guided tour. 4. Harbor Springs, Michigan The twin towns on either side of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, sit near the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Harbor Springs, a town of about 2,000, swells during the summer months as vacationers pour in ahead of the annual regatta in July. Ugotta Regatta, paints the bay with hundreds of yachts and sailboats, while spectators take advantage of the charming, historic downtown fudge and ice cream shops in Petoskey, on the south side of the bay, generations of Victorian summer cottages founded as a Methodist church camp in the nineteenth century make up the community of Bay View. Stay at the Bay View Inn or historic Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey to experience the charm of another era. For a touch of the contemporary, try the local microbrewery, Beards. 5. Saugatuck, Michigan The lakeside village of fewer less than 1,000 inhabitants has been a cultural draw for more than a century. Saugatuck made its name over a century ago with the Ox-Bow art colony during the Arts and Crafts Movement, and continues to attract artists and curious visitors. Today, this lakeside village of fewer than 1,000 residents is easily the buzziest LGBTQ destination in Michigan. The Dunes and CampIt, a duo of welcoming gay resorts, sit across Kalamazoo Lake in Douglas, Saugatuck’s twin village. The club at The Dunes, covered in disco balls and hot pants, hosts parties every night, but in the summer months, every day on the beach feels like a party, too. Hike through beautiful wooded dunes to the peaceful beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, or take a swim at Douglas Beach. For something more chill, check out the retro-style paddlewheel boat cruise down the Kalamazoo River. 6. Two Rivers, Wisconsin Although it was known through most of the 20th century as a fishing and inland shipping hub, Two Rivers isn’t your typical port town. Said to be the birth place of the ice cream sundae (a claim the town’s historical society takes very seriously) no visit here is complete without dessert at the old-fashioned ice cream saloon in Washington House. The only museum dedicated to wood-type printing, Hamilton Wood Type, hosts letterpress workshops and other hands-on events. Design lovers should make a reservation at the Schwartz House, Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. Don’t miss locally caught fish, whether you catch your own on the shore of Point Beach State Forest or order them at Water’s Edge Restaurant, a popular spot known for its panoramic view of Lake Michigan. 7. Charlevoix, Michigan The charming drawbridge that divides downtown Charlevoix makes the town a small but busy shipping port for tall ships seeking access from Lake Michigan to the interior lakes on the other side of the channel. The drawbridge action, on the half-hour, always packs this tiny community of 2,000 within tight quarters. You can witness it perfectly from Weathervane Restaurant, while eating locally-caught whitefish and other seasonal items. Locals don’t seem to mind though. You can find them in the Victorian homes around the scenic natural harbor or the charming “mushroom house” built by self-taught architect Earl Young. The round stone structures, which look curiously like hobbit homes, are made of materials found in the area and blend perfectly into the woods. At the end of July, the eight-day Venetian Festival includes a boat parade, live music, beach festival, and fireworks. 8. Port Washington, Wisconsin It might be the classical brick downtown dating from the early 1800s, the vintage Art Deco pier light, or the neighborly village feel of this harbor community, but Port Washington’s motto, “New England charm and Midwestern friendliness,” fulfills its promise. Visitors to this resort town, 30 miles north of Milwaukee, can swim or yacht on the Lake Michigan shoreline, or head deeper with Port Deco Divers weekend scuba diving trips, which explore one of more than a dozen local shipwreck sites at the bottom of the lake. Since 1964, the town’s largest annual festival, Port Fish Day, celebrates the Lake Michigan fishing tradition with a parade, rock bands, fish and chips stands, and fireworks. Turn up for the atmosphere, stay for the people.

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